Women in Art: The Double X Factor

You may have seen the hashtag #5womenartists on your feed or in the news in the last few weeks. It has been shared broadly, but it was first begun by the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in honor of Women’s History Month last year. “Using the hashtag #5womenartists, the campaign will encourage NMWA’s online community to help address the gender imbalance in the presentation of art both in the United States and internationally,” notes the NMWA webpage. Here are five women artists that you can find at the National Sporting Library & Museum.

#1 – Jean Bowman was a leading 20th century, American equestrian portraitist and a founding member of the American Academy of Equine Art.

Jean Bowman, Mongo
Jean Eleanor Bowman (American, 1917-1994), Mongo on the Turf at Laurel Racetrack, Maryland with Charles Burr Up, 1964, oil on canvas, 29 x 36 inches, Gift of Jacqueline B. Mars, 2012 © John H. Pentecost

The painful reality is that unlike institutions such as NMWA which focus on female artists, only 3-5% of museum permanent collection objects in the U.S. and Europe have been produced by women (NMWA’s Get the Facts). Depressing, right?

#2 – Susan Catherine Moore Waters was an early female artist who attained recognition during her lifetime for her animal paintings, exhibiting at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876.

Susan Waters, Chickens & Raspberries
Susan Catherine Moore Waters (American, 1823-1900), Chickens and Raspberries, c.1880, oil on canvas, 24 x 16 ½ inches, Gift of The Phelan Collection, 2012

I was curious to see how the NSLM’s permanent collection would hold up to this statistic. 41 objects by females out of 962 paintings, works on paper, sculpture, prints, and trophies from 17th century to the present were recorded in the 2015 full inventory. This equals 4.3% females.

#3 – Tessa Pullan was commissioned by Paul Mellon to sculpt the three-quarter life-size bronze of his winning Thoroughbred Sea Hero, now installed in the NSLM’s boxwood garden.

Tessa Pullan, Sea Hero
Tessa Pullan, (British, b.1953) Sea Hero, bronze on slate stone base, 96 x 88 x 29 ¼ inches, Bequest of Paul Mellon, 1999, Acquired 2014 © Tessa Pullan

Looking at objects made from the 20th century to the present in isolation, however, reflects a stronger number of 27.5% women. This mirrors the rising number of female artists attaining success throughout the 20th century. Additionally, 31% of the original art that came to the NSLM since the Museum opened in 2011 was created by women artists.

#4 – Clarice Smith’s exhilarating three-dimensional exploration of a horse race brings an edgy and contemporary perspective to the traditional subject.

Clarice Smith, Gallop
Clarice Smith, (American, b.1933), Gallop, 2009, oil with gold and copper leaf on canvas, on 5-panel screen, 50 x 77 ½ inches, Gift of Clarice Smith, 2015 © Clarice Smith

In addition to the artists from the permanent collection highlighted in this post, I must add Marie-Rosalie “Rosa” Bonheur (French, 1822 – 1899) to my #5womenartists. She was an innovator in her time and stands as a beacon to 20th century women artists. Even though NSLM does not yet have a work by Bonheur in its permanent collection, you can currently see one of her paintings at the Museum on loan. She is on our wish list, as the collection continues to grow through generous donations and bequests.

#5 – French painter and sculptor Rosa Bonheur is one of the most revered artists of the 19th century. See her painting in The Chronicle of the Horse in Art exhibition on loan through March 19, 2017.

Marie-Rosalie (Rosa) Bonheur (French, 1822-1899), Highland Ponies, 1861, oil on canvas, 14 ¼ x 20 inches, Collection of Amy Chuckrow (on loan to The Chronicle of the Horse in Art exhibition through March 19, 2017)

We as keepers of history do not wish to revise the past, but we have our eyes open to the promise of the future. Today 51% of visual artists are women (NMWA’s Get the Facts).

What are your favorite #5womenartists? We would love to hear from you.

pfeifferClaudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art at the National Sporting Library & Museum since the position was underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org



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  1. Thank you, Claudia. You, of course, have seen Jean Bowman’s “Orange County Hunt 1988” ,,, mounted hunt members in full scurry. I don’t know where the original resides.

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  2. American Women Artists has taken on the challenge of changing that dismal 3-5% statistic with its 25 in 25 campaign; to have 25 museum shows in the next 25 years. Our hope is that museums who host our annual shows will also purchase at least one painting/sculpture for their collections. We start with the Tucson Desert Art Museum this fall, followed by shows at the Rockwell Museum (2018), the Haggin Museum (2018), the Steamboat Art Museum (2019) and the Booth Museum of Western Art (2020). Any museums out there interested in hosting an AWA show , contact: rknowlton@americanwomenartists.org

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